Friendships will be set aside when Quins prop Craig Nutt goes head to head with Gio Fourie and Jaen Botes at weekend
Friends to turn frenemies when Abu Dhabi Harlequins take on Dubai Exiles in UAE Premiership final
The finale to the domestic season will pit together two of the fiercest rivals in UAE rugby – but will also feel a lot like friends reunited.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles have shared most of the major trophies in West Asia rugby between them over the past two seasons.
Matches between them on the pitch have usually been brutal, while occasionally terse relations off the field between the two clubs have added fuel to the fire, too.
And yet Friday’s UAE Premiership final at Rugby Park in Dubai Sports City will pit close mates in direct opposition, who have shared trophy wins together in the past – beyond the Harlequins-Exiles rivalry.
Craig Nutt, the Harlequins prop, was a winner in his debut campaign in the UAE with Abu Dhabi Saracens three years ago.
When he packs down against Exiles on Friday evening, he will go head to head with Gio Fourie, the hooker from that Saracens side, while Jaen Botes, another former title winner with Sarries, is also in the Exiles pack.
“Whenever you play against people you have played with before you have a bit of banter on the field, before and after,” Nutt said.
“We are friends off the field, but on the field, it is all about winning. I’m not there to lose, neither are any of my teammates.
“After we win, we shake hands a go again. It is always good fun playing against people you know. It will be no different [in the final]. They have lots of quality, we have lots of quality, so I am expecting a tough test.”
Fourie, the free-scoring Exiles hooker, says friendships will be set aside for 80 minutes.
“You have to go harder when there is a mate of yours against you,” said Fourie, who scored two more tries in Exiles’ West Asia Cup final defeat in Bahrain last time out.
“After the game they can make fun of you, so you have to give everything. We are still going to be mates, not on the field but afterwards.
“The better team on the day, the one that puts the most into it, will be the team that wins. It is going to be a tough game, anything can happen in a final.”
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While Harlequins are defending their title, and going for a third trophy of the campaign, it was the Exiles who finished highest in the league phase of the Premiership.
Exiles are able to welcome back a variety of players who missed the final of the West Asia Cup in Bahrain.
By contrast, Harlequins are still attempting to juggle resources strained by an exhaustive injury list, to the extent they were unable to name a definitive starting XV 24 hours before kick-off.
Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane paid tribute to the spirit the players have shown this season, as well as the efforts of team manager Rory Greene, physio Patrick Milton and strength and conditioning coach Chris Kitchen.
“Week in, week out numerous players have stepped up to represent the Club from first XV to Sandstorm [fourth team] often playing levels above their desired level due to injuries,” McFarlane said.
“This match-day 22 will be representing all their efforts. We always set the highest expectations and standards and this game will be no different.
“Whilst we know we are up against a very good Exiles side, we know how to win the big games and the boys know how to put in big performances.
“There will be testing times, no doubt, for periods of this game but we know the unity and culture will pull us through, as it has done on many occasions this year.
"It's exciting. I'm excited. The players are excited.”